Defense Innovation unit Enters Critical Period.

Author:Harper, Jon
Position:Industry Viewpoint
 
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* Supporters of the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental are touting its value as the future of the organization hangs in the balance.

Leaders of the outfit, known as DIUx, have been making the rounds at high-profile national security conferences and engaging with media in recent weeks to highlight their achievements.

The unit, which is based in Silicon Valley and has additional outposts in Boston and Austin, Texas, is trying to break down barriers between the Defense Department and high-tech commercial firms, and make the Pentagon's acquisition process more agile.

"Core to our value and approach here at DIUx ... is to help nontraditional vendors work with the department so we get access to their technology earlier and more directly than we normally would," Managing Director Raj Shah said during a conference call with reporters to discuss the office's fiscal year 2016 acquisition results.

Following a rocky start in 2015, in May the Defense Department launched a revamped "DIUx 2.0" with new leadership and acquisition authorities provided by the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.

Using its streamlined "commercial solutions opening" process, the unit has awarded at least 12 contracts in recent months. The average time between the initial DIUx meeting with an interested company and contract award was less than 60 days. "That's lightning speed for the Department of Defense," said Lauren Schmidt, the organization's pathways director, at a recent conference hosted by the Center for a New American Security.

The outfit has a slew of different projects currently underway and additional contracts will be awarded in the coming months, Shah said at the recent CyberCon gathering of government officials and industry in Washington, DC.

The unit--which aims to spur rapid prototype development and then transition successful products to the services for sole-sourced full-rate production--is largely focused on five technology areas: autonomy; artificial intelligence and machine learning; big data; cyber; and space.

Contracts awarded in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2016 include money for: autonomous unmanned aircraft and surface vessels; big data-crunching technology for real-world event modeling and simulation; and automated textual analysis and content curation from open sources.

Projects in the pipeline include multi-factor authentication for data access, software for deployable cyber defense systems and microsatellites.

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